The e-commerce market is growing rapidly as the opportunities offered by e-commerce have become evident also to small and medium-sized enterprises during the coronavirus pandemic. And no wonder. With e-commerce, you can multiply your company’s sales opportunities and, by adding multilingualism to the equation, you can also go international. An online retailer should keep multilingualism in mind from the outset. Even if internationalisation is not planned initially, it may become relevant later.
Here are a few fundamentals of international e-commerce (you can read more in our e-commerce guide).
Choosing an e-commerce platform
When choosing an e-commerce platform that suits your business, consider how it will adapt to internationalisation. Most platforms offer different language options for both online shoppers and retailers themselves. If the language you need is not available out of the box, can new language versions be added easily?
Language versions are not just about translating the content. The entire online store must be localised. Therefore, when choosing the platform, also take into account how well it can be adapted to different currency units, payment and delivery methods or the calendar of the destination country, for instance.
Choosing the online store’s languages
The choice of language depends on what and where you want to sell. You can get further with English than with Finnish but, according to one survey, 76% of online shoppers want product information in their native language.
The smartest approach is to carry out an advance analysis of where your products are most in demand. At the same time, consider the return on your language investment as it consists of matters other than just translation. The maintenance of language versions, marketing and customer service in the chosen languages also cost.
English is the most widely used language on the Internet: up to 60.4% of the world’s 10 million most popular websites are in English. So choose English if you don’t have a specific target audience in mind.
International search engine optimisation
Localising your online store is not enough if search engines cannot find it. Keyword research must be conducted for each language and target area separately if you want to attract customers to your online store.
Detailed keyword research analyses which target-language terms are used when people search for your company’s products or services. These terms are not necessarily the first translation options that come to mind.
If you’re thinking about using only English in turning your business international, keep in mind that only a fraction of Google searches are done in English. English is also the most difficult language in terms of search engine visibility, precisely because there are so many English-language websites. It may therefore be a better idea to analyse the target markets more thoroughly and start international business one language area at a time.
Many platforms offer ready-made translations. Even at their best, they are not enough as your product information must also be professionally translated. You need a good localisation partner because customers won’t buy anything from an online store with poorly translated content.
Choose a language services partner that has experience in online store translations and the ability to automate the management of language versions. In practice, this means integration between the e-commerce platform or the PIM system and the language service provider’s system. Integration can often be achieved with add-ons.
As a rule of thumb, the more language versions and information to be updated the online store has, the smarter and more profitable it is to manage language versions through integration rather than manually.
Maintaining language versions
The maintenance of language versions includes not only the continuous updating of the multilingual website but also marketing and customer service in the chosen languages. The ready-made translations offered by platforms certainly are not enough for this.
It may not be the smart option to translate a website into Chinese, for instance, if you are not prepared to serve customers in Chinese as well. Even before adding a new language version, you must take into account that customers may send inquiries or return products and you should be able to serve them in their own language. The online store must also be marketed continuously to ensure that the desired target group can find it. Otherwise, your technical investment will be a waste of time and money.
An international online store is not a one-off setup and translation project. In theory, geographic barriers to e-commerce are easy to overcome but, in practice, an international online store requires constant work and investments. The most important thing, as with marketing in general, is to know your customers and offer them localised service. After all, the customer experience is everything also in global business.